THE FULL SCOPE and extravagance of President Bush's second inauguration will be decided by inaugural planners and federal officials. The District of Columbia is hardly a bystander in this quadrennial event, however, because it is always called upon to provide security and other local services. Until this year, that arrangement has not been a problem for either party. Historically, the federal government has reimbursed the District's inaugural costs through a special appropriation -- a point D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams was forced to make in a Dec. 27 letter to Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The letter was necessary because this year the Bush administration has decided to break from that practice. If the administration has its way, the District will be forced to meet the security needs of the inauguration by draining its own tax dollars or tapping into federal funds already earmarked and approved for homeland security needs. Neither alternative is acceptable. Inaugural events are a federal responsibility. The federal government should spend federal resources or reimburse jurisdictions -- such as the District -- on which presidential inaugural requirements have been imposed.
It is astonishing that arrangements for the 55th presidential inauguration have even come to this. Weeks ago, District officials met with federal officials to identify additional federal funds that might be available to defray the $17.3 million in security and other costs the District estimates will be related to Mr. Bush's inauguration. It was a prudent step to take since the fund normally used for Washington events such as the World Bank meetings and the Ronald Reagan funeral could legally be tapped for only $5.4 million. Instead of reviewing the District's remaining expected costs and arranging for federal reimbursement, the Bush administration has given the city permission to draw down homeland security funds that have been allocated to the city for purposes having nothing to do with the inauguration. Spending the District's federal homeland security money for the inaugural celebration could be detrimental to the District and the Washington region. We can't imagine that the Bush administration would sacrifice security needs in the national capital region to stage an unruffled inauguration with a celebratory flair. This is no way for the White House to behave, especially toward a city that has always met the needs of presidential inaugurations.